Bugs, Trains and Dragon Tales – Picture Books for Starting School

Starting school for a new year is definitely a big transition for most kids (and parents). Learning new routines, new skills, ways of managing change and making new friendships are all a part of the progression towards a happy and healthy school life. The following few picture books deal with these themes, friendship in particular, and will have your little ones starting the year with fresh and open eyes (and hearts).

imageMolly and Mae, Danny Parker (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, October 2016.

Friendships are not always straightforward. Just like a train journey, there are bumps, bends, fun moments and impatient moments. Divinely structured text by Danny Parker, together with brilliant illustrator, Freya Blackwood, magically represent the adventure of ‘friendship’ via two girls travelling side by side through a countryside train ride.

Beginning on the platform, Molly and Mae giggle and play as they wait for the train to arrive. Beautifully rendered warming and cooling tones perfectly contrast with one another to create the backdrop for the long, scenic landscape pages as we travel through each moment, and emotion, of the trip. From excitement to boredom, frustration to solitary dreariness, forgiveness and absolution, the illustrations perfectly portray the bond between Molly and Mae, which inevitably reaches the distance.

Gorgeously rich and evocative in every sense, Molly and Mae is an enchanting voyage of the ups, downs, ins and outs of relationships; sweet, thought-provoking and heartwarming all at the same time. A wonderful book for children from age four.

imageMy Friend Ernest, Emma Allen (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), HarperCollinsPublishers, February 2016.

Another story exploring the complexities of friendship is My Friend Ernest. Oscar tries to be brave when he begins at his new school, with knight helmet and sword in full attire. But he is challenged at every turn when a kid with freckles, dressed as a dragon, bares his teeth and tramples on Oscar’s sandcastle. The battle between knight and dragon is finally surrendered when both boys admit they’re not as brave as they had planned for. Finding common ground is the ultimate solution and the boys share imaginative role play experiences together as new friends.

With gentle narrative written from Oscar’s point of view, and equally soft colours and textures in the illustrations, My Friend Ernest is an encouraging tale of overcoming initial discrepancies and building confidence when forming new friendships. Perfect for early years students in any new situation.

imageTwig, Aura Parker (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, November 2016.

There is no camouflage when it comes to the gorgeousness of this book. Its messages of teamwork, compassion and friendship are clear, as is the sweetness of the whimsical illustrations in every minute little detail.

Finding the new girl, stick insect Heidi amongst the tall trees and scuttling of hundreds of tiny insect feet is no easy task, but a fun one for its readers, nonetheless. However, for Heidi, being invisible to her classmates makes for a lonely, dispiriting starting-school experience. Finally being discovered by others proves to be equally about self discovery and expression, and a beautifully-weaved gift from her new friends helps Heidi to bloom in full vibrancy.

Twig; an enchanting and gentle book for preschoolers and school starters to explore their own self identity and confidence when approaching new experiences, as well as an engaging and eye-catching story of hidden, ‘creepy-crawly’ gems and counting fun.

imageThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea, Julia Hubery (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), Little Hare Books, September 2016.

Talk about dedication! This young farmer would do anything for his princess, going as far as the farthest lands to prove he can be the bravest, most heroic knight that his princess desires. But Henry Hoplingsea soon realises that this life of swords and slaying is not what his own heart desires, for his passion still lies in a simple life with his love. And fortunately for Henry, his princess has had a change of heart, too. Maybe there’s still some room for a ‘spark’ of excitement!

The Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea is a sweet and romantic tale of making sacrifices for the ones you care about, following one’s heart and appreciating what you have. Rich and meaningful, full of warmth and energy, both in the text and illustrations, this book is an insightful example for early years children of tenaciousness and relationships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Leaving the Nest – Back to School Picture Books

Reaching a new milestone is one that comes with excitement, pride, aspirations and sometimes, trepidation. We’ve already been through the first year of school experience (with another waiting in the wings), but even so, starting afresh has its own set of rewards and challenges. From learning a whole new routine, to meeting new friends and setting new goals. Here are a few picture books that are sure to help your kidlets relate (and ease their minds) to what’s in store for their year/s ahead.

imageMy First Day at School, Rosie Smith (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

“To all the mums and dads. It will be OK!”

Aptly dedicated to those nerve-racked, first-time school parents, experts Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley send a most encouraging message from the outset. Then, warmly greeted by a little yellow duckling the first day routine begins.

Each turn of the page introduces us to another adorable creature as s/he embarks on an independent journey to life as a student. And no matter how complex the task might seem, such as a caterpillar dressing each of its many, many legs or a pig attempting to eat from an upturned bowl on its head, they are all completely doable.

Written in first person and with minimal text, both words and illustrations work beautifully together to showcase the variety of experiences yet keeping it simple and focussed at the same time. Soothing pastel coloured backgrounds allow the characters’ personalities and humorous antics to pop and burst in this utterly joyous and memorable occasion.

‘My First Day at School’ is the perfect companion that works in partnership with parents and children to successfully accomplish what may feel like a daunting experience. Children between 3 and 6 will fall head over heels in love with this fun, exuberant and relatable story about a typical school day.

imageBe Brave, Pink Piglet!, Phil Cummings (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Setting off into unfamiliar territory, so to speak, definitely takes a lot of courage. For Pink Piglet, this is certainly true. When mother pig gives her babe the all-clear to expand on his horizons, he is less than confident. Poor Pink Piglet encounters some frighteningly large and noisy animals on his way around the farmyard. But his resilience and frolicsome nature prevail. Covered in brown worms in muck, red squished berries and green squelchy pond weed, the bedraggled-looking piglet is the scariest sight for sore eyes as he heads back home. Well, all the farm animals think so… except for his mum, of course.

The illustrations are beautifully textured and layered with a mix of oils on canvas and digital media in soft, pastel-coloured hues. The expressions and energy emanating from the pictures perfectly compliment the jolly onomatopoeia and animal sound effects.

‘Be Brave, Pink Piglet’ is a spirited read aloud story wonderfully capturing a serendipitous moment of bravery and playfulness. Another relevant read for your little school starter – your own ‘brave explorer’.

Watch Phil Cumming’s special video message to school starters here.

imageWhen I Grow Up, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

Capturing our attention from first glance is ‘When I Grow Up’ by much-loved duo, Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley (Check on Me and First Day). With its scattered assortment of occupational items on the cover and bright neon colours upon entering the book, you know this story will be full of diversity and effervescence.

It’s not only children with aspirations for a glowing future. Adults, too can take inspiration to making their dreams come true. The teacher, as the role model, opens the story with the projection that she’d like to be the school principal. Then she facilitates open minds with the question, “What do you want to be?” Throughout the story, several children stand up and with the most imaginative and optimistic of responses as they proclaim their future desires. From a hair-raising hairdresser to a whizz-bang, supersonic-robotic inventor, an alien-photographing astronaut, writer of the most epic of stories, and an all-round stage performer. But in a tidy conclusion we learn, yes, we can be a multitude of things, but most importantly we should just be ourselves.

Whether realistic or far-fetched, the concepts and language are age-appropriate with an element of humour that kids will enjoy. Visually this book is captivating as the text weaves in and around the bold and colourful illustrations. Each spread captures that enthusiasm with its pictures that fill the page and extra hidden details to explore.

‘When I Grow Up’ will take children (and adults) from age four to big places, and all it takes is the power of imagination to turn dreams into realities. It is also a useful resource for learning about different jobs and their roles.

Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love of reading, rhyming, numbers and of course, the celebration of the festive season.

count-my-christmas-kissesCute Book #1: Count my Christmas Kisses by Ruthie May and Tamsin Ainslie.
Another adorable book from the creators of ‘Count My Kisses, Little One’.

”One kiss for baby, under mistletoe. Two kisses for baby, catching falling snow.”  

Baby is lucky to be kissed one time more each page, celebrating a joyous Christmas event or tradition, all the way from one up to ten. With pretty singing voices, toasty fires, busily making paper chains and rides on a reindeer. The children enjoy jingling bells and acting in a nativity play, lighting candles and snuggling tight in bed.  

Ruthie May has beautifully written a gentle rhyming lullaby to warm the heart and settle little ones to rest after a busy day. Including absolutely gorgeous illustrations to match the words, Tamsin Ainslie’s soft watercolour tones and pencil sketches create movement and fluidity, with lovely detailed textures and patterns for extra warmth.  

A counting book full of happiness, love and Christmas cheer, ‘Count my Christmas Kisses’ is perfect for sharing with babies and young children throughout the festive holidays.  

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia October 2014.  

w548932Cute Book  #2: This Little Piggy went Singing by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland.
With a play on the traditional nursery rhyme about the little piggy who went to market, comes the fun Christmas tale, ‘This Little Piggy Went Singing’. It’s the perfect follow on from This Little Piggy Went Dancing’.

”This little piggy went singing
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had noodles
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.”  

The remainder of the book follows this cute rhyme about the five beloved piggies , incorporating funny, action-packed and tender Christmas moments each time.
Some piggies went shopping, delivering gifts, dining with friends, partying, riding and dancing.
Some piggies stayed home to create festive crafts, knit, play with toys, decorate the tree, read, bake and wrap presents.
Some piggies had delicious food, like meatballs, berries, candy canes, plum pudding, fruit and gingerbread cookies.
Some piggies had none.
And some piggies played on their instruments with a ratta-tat-tat, jingle, click, tra-la-la and ho-ho-ho all the way home.  

Margaret Wild so delightfully provides many variations of the song with all the fun, frivolity and excitement of the yuletide, including a universal connection with families celebrating Christmas anywhere in the world. With bold, colourful and oh-so-cute illustrations by Deborah Niland, ‘This Little Piggy went Singing’ is a classic that sure to appeal to the young, and young at heart, for many playful sing-a-long counting games.  

Allen & Unwin 2014  

the-twelve-days-of-christmasCute Book #3: The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
If you’re after a traditional festive song in a book with gorgeous, modern Australian illustrations, here you have it!

”On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partidge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree.”
 

Two children explore a nature park in the bright, sunny surrounds, discovering our beautiful wildlife and other kids playing as they progress from day one to twelve. What a ripper finding the four calling birds being laughing kookaburras, the five golden rings being cheese ring snacks and six geese laying in a native wetland scene. It’s bonzer watching eight little girls as maids milking the baby animals and ten school boys playing leap frog. With the final two days full of musical festivities, the crowd have an ace time celebrating a warm, Aussie summer Christmas together.  

Karen Erasmus’ soft watercolours, pencil lines and pastel tones perfectly suit the movement and activity of the park scenery, as well as the peace that this traditional song allows us to feel. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a lovely book to share with family members during the holiday season.  

Hachette Children’s Books 2013  

More great picture book recommendations still to come, perfect for gifts or just because we love children’s books!

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